Following President Bush’s declaration of a ‘war on terror’ in 2001, governments around the world introduced a range of counter-terrorist legislation, policies and practices. These included first-order measures aimed specifically at suspected terrorists, such as counter-terrorist and money laundering legislation, enhanced surveillance, renditions and passenger profiling, and second-order measures that are built into other policies such as official aid assistance, refugee and asylum practices, education and community engagement initiatives. When Barack Obama became US President in early 2009, one of his first moves was to distance himself from the language of the ‘war on terror’, a phrase that has become irrevocably associated with President Bush. In this spirit he committed his administration to closing the Guantanamo detention facility in Cuba and banning the use of torture.
This might suggest that the ‘war on terror’ is now over; that the global security regime that evolved in the wake of the attacks on the Twin Towers could now be declared a chapter closed. Such an interpretation would, however, be overly sanguine. International troops are still in Afghanistan; there is still conflict in Iraq; Osama Bin Laden may still be alive; and the name and ideas of Al Qaeda still have currency. The ‘war on terror’ lives on. Its institutional, policy and legal legacies remain deeply entrenched, creating challenges for international development aid and civil society actors.